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Emotional arousal key to information sharing, study says

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 9 2013 2:00 p.m. MST

Fueled by the ever-growing power of the Internet and countless websites being started up every day, today's world revolves around information sharing and receiving. And a study conducted by Jonah Berger of the University of Pennyslavania, shows that both high physical and emotional arousal lead to the sharing of more information, giving more insight as to why people share what they do.

A two-part study, "Arousal Increases Social Transmission of Information" was conducted with more than 100 participants by The Wharton School at the university, to look at the role emotional and physical arousal plays in information sharing, specifically news, both personal and public.

For the first part of the experiment, involving 93 participants, one group was shown videos likely to evoke high arousal emotions, like anxiety or amusement, while the other group was shown videos likely to evoke low arousal emotions, like sadness or contentment.

The participants were then free to share whatever information they had accumulated with those they were close to. Those who had been highly aroused were more likely to share than those who had experienced the lower-intensity emotions.

"It's not just about positive and negative, we talk about things that are highly aroused," Berger, author of the study, said. "We don't just want to sit still, we want to do something about it."

One of the main findings of the study was that it wasn't about whether the emotions aroused were positive or negative, it was more about the intensity of the emotions and the activiation they inspired.

"When we are excited we are more than just content. When we are anxious we are more than just sad. We share things that activate," Berger said.

The second part of the study tested the effect of physical arousal. Forty participants were split into two groups: one half jogged in place and the other simply sat in place for the same amount of time.

Afterwards, those who jogged were 42 percent more likely to email an article to someone they knew than those who had been sitting.

“People’s behavior is heavily influenced by what others say and do," Berger said in a press release about the study. "Whether you are a company trying to get people to talk more about your brand, or a public health organization trying to get people to spread your healthy eating message, these results provide insight into how to design more effective messages and communication strategies.”

Berger is releasing a book, "Contagious: Why Things Catch On," in March of 2013 about his findings and theories on the sharing of information and the phenomenon of certain information becoming viral.

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